Tampa International Airport’s Black History Month celebration on Friday, Feb. 20 includes a poetry reading by James Tokley, poet laureate for the City of Tampa and Hillsborough County.
His performance will include existing pieces and at least two written specifically for this occasion.
“When you’re talking about an airport, especially from an African American perspective, you’re talking about another example of transportation that goes all the way back to a time when people were riding buses and some people had to sit in the back and some people sat up front. One of the poems I’m doing is based on that idea. It’s about the difference between riding the buses and all that that entails and flying in a plane and the attitudes that change from one epoch to another. The name of the piece is “Grandmom and the Airlines.”
A multitude of personal stories inspired the piece, Tokley said.
“The experience of flying, the experience of riding in an airplane, is still a very heady thing. And how you receive it depends upon the generation that you are from,” he said. “I took air flight and I placed it in what I consider an African American perspective, going back to the 60s and coming forward.”
With his performance at the airport days away, Tokley said he is still putting finishing touches on the poem.
“Of course, when you’re a poet you never really finish anything,” he said. “I still have poems I wrote 40 years ago that I’m still refining. They’re published.”
He also plans to read another new work he has titled “Air Afrique,” which reflects on his experience as a passenger on that airline in 1975 in Senegal.
Tokley’s reading will come in between performances by Tampa Bay’s own Bus Stop Band. The five-piece band plays a variety of high-energy Top 40, Soul, Funk and R & B. Preview the band on Facebook.com/thebusstopband.
The festivities run from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Level 3 of the Main Terminal, near Airside E. The event is free and open to the public.
In honor of Black History Month, the airport is currently featuring an art display by local artist and educator Dr. Dallas Jackson, titled Words & Actions, Portraits of Martin and Maya. Among the exhibited pieces is a watercolor of a multicultural group representing the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King’s work and Maya Angelou’s words and audience in her poem “On the Pulse of Morning.” The exhibit is on loan from the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum in St. Petersburg. The exhibit is located in the Main Terminal on Level 3 near the Sikorsky Elevators and is accessible to all airport guests.
And through the end of the month, a montage honoring African American aviation pioneers including Dr. Mae Jemison, Dr. Guion Bluford, and Bessie Coleman, the aviatrix for whom the airport service road was renamed, appears on the visual display screens throughout the airport.